Ecuador is a country with a rich and vibrant history of cherishing the family unit. As such, wherever we went, our children were welcomed with open arms, never scoffed at nor shushed. At the time, the girls were 8 and 13 – obviously old enough to behave and show off our highly impressive parenting prowess (just don’t ask me about the meltdown of my newly minted teenager in the quaint town square of Loja)! However, there is a noticeable shift between a culture that merely tolerates children and one that caters to them. I would have to say Ecuador considers children in almost everything it offers. From an educational point of view to one of safety and security, everywhere we visited we felt welcomed with open arms and respect for our kids.
If you judge a country with a CNN-mentality – that is, through the lens of doom and gloom media – nobody in their right mind would venture into Ecuador, let alone with children. The drugs! The kidnappings! The killer diseases, oh my! (The summer of 2016 was smack in the middle of the Zika crisis for much of South America.) We didn’t listen to any of this hooey, and really, we’re not exactly immune to calamity in our own neck of the woods. Not one time did we ever feel vulnerable or that we were putting our children at risk. The locals smiled and interacted with our girls, and other fellow travellers would nod in approval over our decision to give the family a global perspective. And, I would do the whole thing again in a heartbeat.
Diversity abounds: Ecuador packs a huge punch with something for everyone!
There is no other place like Ecuador in the world. From the lush vegetation of the Amazon Rainforest to the splendour of the Andes Mountains, the dichotomy will spin your head and then some. Over the course of three days, our little travelling gong show hugged the rugged Pacific coastline (where the whale watching in laidback Puerto Lopez did NOT disappoint!), through a dry forest desert area and into the stunning Andean mountain range. From sea level to 11,000 feet the landscape diversity was a visual nirvana unlike anything I’d seen.
In our family, there are the “water peeps” and the “mountain peeps”. Well, ok, maybe just one “mountain peep” (any guesses here?!). Indeed, we’ve selected many a vacation destination purely on the proximity of the ocean alone, knowing full-well that you just can’t beat the entertainment value of sand and wave-jumping with kids. But this country ticked boxes that made everyone happy, including me – did I mention I’m not much of a water gal? Speaking of water, don’t even get me started on the Galápagos Islands, conveniently located just 1,000 km offshore mainland Ecuador. If wildlife tickles your fancy, a few days spent on any of those mystical volcano archipelagos is akin to rediscovering the 6-year old version of yourself. Everything is wonderful and impossible, all at once. Sea lions lounging on park
benches, penguins doing the backstroke by your fishing boat, and giant tortoises having the full right-of-way down dusty gravel roads are pretty much everyday occurrences there.
Ecuador is an idyllic biodiverse paradise. But wait, there’s more! For those practical folks out there, the fact that we explored the country from North to South, and East to West “road-trip style” also scored major points. Ecuador has invested heavily in its infrastructure and highways over the last 4 years, making it a real pleasure to navigate. With Tourism a top priority of the federal government, you can literally see and feel the work that’s gone into improving and expanding the roads that connect some of the more remote towns with the larger centres. And other than one rogue boulder that rolled down a cliff in front of our Prado while climbing into the Rainforest (that was some Indiana Jones-style craziness!), navigating this country with ease is surprisingly doable.
Action-packed Adventure. Think you’re up for the challenge?
If you have kids, you’ll be well familiar with the dilemma of keeping them entertained. It seems wherever we go, there’s a panic that ensues while we hunt for water and theme parks or some other captivating, child-friendly money pit... er, place. In choosing Ecuador as our summer-long destination, we promised the girls a different kind of fun. This would be the heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping kind; indeed, the kind that might make you question your very sanity as a responsible parent. There was the time we all forked over just $10 each, strapped on helmets, and precariously dangled from a wire that connected a 2km wide gorge. Yeah, that was some insane ziplining entertainment. I was immediately struck by the contrast of any such thing here in North America, where you sign your life away with page-long waivers, surrendering all rights to sue should anything go awry. The Ecuadorians waste no time with such fluff, getting straight to the business of fun without delay. Literally, within five minutes of arriving, I was pooping my pants on the platform, strapped in and ready to be pushed off (that’s what it took for me to leave the platform)!
There was the time I dragged my water-loving peeps halfway up Ecuador’s tallest mountain, Chimborazo, exposing them to terrain they’d never the likes of seen, whilst challenging their lungs with substantially reduced levels of oxygen at altitudes of 16,000 feet. That, was epic! If ever there’s an adventure I recommend, try bribing your screen-addicted 8-year-old with the promise of Doritos at the top mountain hut, should she could actually suck it up and do a bit of a hike.
Then who could forget that time we swam with the sharks at Kicker Rock, just off the shores of San Cristobal in the Galápagos Islands? Even yours truly – the non-water-loving-mountain-girl – donned a wetsuit and ventured into the freezing cold water for the chance to be among marine life I’d likely never see again.
The possibilities in Ecuador are endless. World-class surfing? They’ve got it. Epic jungle adventures? Yup, that too. Yoga and meditation? Ding-ding, we’ve got a winner. With all this AND a vibrant culture rich with tradition from hundreds of years ago – a visit to Otavalo is a must – you simply will not be bored. My litmus test for all this excitement was my kids, who to this day claim that nothing will rival the time they spent in Ecuador. When compared with the usual fare one might find here in North America – contrived theme parks with heavy line-ups and outrageous prices – Ecuador offers a refreshing palette of cost-effective and action-packed options. So. Still not convinced? Go see for yourself. Take a gamble on a destination that sits just a little bit outside of your regularly scheduled comfort zone. Get to know this accessible, family-friendly gem. I’m counting the days until my next visit: just 27 to go. Hey, I warned you this was a full-blown love affair, did I not?!